updated 9/2/2008 12:32:53 PM ET 2008-09-02T16:32:53

The U.S. military disputed on Tuesday the toll of 96 civilians the Afghan government and United Nations said were killed in an air strike in western Afghanistan last month, saying five to seven civilians had been killed.

It said its investigation of the August 22 operation in the Shindand district of Herat found that 30 to 35 Taliban militants were also killed, including a commander, in the U.S.-led coalition air strike.

The Afghan government has said mostly women and children died in the bombardment, an allegation backed by the United Nations.

President Hamid Karzai, faced with mounting public anger over civilian casualties, called for a review of combat operations by foreign forces following the air strikes in Herat.

Evidence combed
The U.S. military said its findings were based on video taken during the operation and topographic photo comparisons of the area before and after the strikes, including analysis of burial sites in the area.

Reports from local medical clinics and hospitals were also examined, a U.S. military statement said.

"The investigation found that 30-35 Taliban militants were killed, including evidence suggesting a known Taliban commander, Mullah Sadiq, was among them," it said.

"In addition, five to seven civilians were killed, two civilians were injured and subsequently treated by coalition forces, and five Taliban were detained."

500 civilian deathsreported
More than 500 civilians have been killed during operations by foreign and Afghan forces against the militants so far this year, according to the Afghan government and some aid groups.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan this year as the hardline Islamist Taliban have stepped up their campaign of guerrilla attacks backed by suicide and roadside bombs to oust the pro-Western Afghan government and drive out foreign troops.

Western military officials say Taliban fighters deliberately use civilians as cover, drawing coalition firepower onto non-combatants in an attempt to reap propaganda gains.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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